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Distractology 101 Earns More National News Coverage

Distractology Simulation Vehicle with plate that reads DRV SAFE
Donald Fisher

Donald Fisher

An article appearing in the Washington Post, Idaho Statesman, and Charlotte Observer, among other publications, recently sang the praises of Distractology 101, the life-saving program developed by engineers at UMass Amherst and the Arbella Insurance Foundation. Distractology 101, a program designed to teach novice drivers the dangers of distracted driving, was developed under the leadership of Emeritus Professor Donald Fisher, the retired department head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department (MIE), in MIE’s Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation Human Performance Laboratory. In the Post article, Fisher said that texting is 20 times more dangerous that keeping your eyes on the road while driving. See http://distractology.com/.

In the past, Distractology 101 has been featured on the Today Show, the Boston Globe, and hundreds of other newspapers, TV shows, and websites. The Distractology 101 program brings a driving simulator to high schools across southern New England to teach students about the dangers of distracted driving, especially texting while driving. Introduced in 2010, the Distractology campaign features a 36-foot-long, mobile classroom outfitted with high-tech driving simulators. The classroom leads students though a variety of true-to-life distracted driving scenarios, educating participants to anticipate hidden hazards, react to the road, and avoid accidents.

According to the Washington Post, Distractology “has been shown to be an effective part of a driver-education program, particularly for young people and novice drivers. Using a computer simulator, new drivers encounter a variety of scenarios involving smartphones, the radio, and eating or drinking at the wheel. After a relatively short session, new drivers can learn to anticipate possible hazards and remain focused on the road. The program has been shown to reduce accidents by 19 percent among the people who have participated in the program. Those drivers were also 25 percent less likely to get traffic violations.”

The Post noted that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has estimated that 10 percent of all fatalities are caused by distracted driving, or more than 3,000 a year. But few distractions are as dangerous as texting and driving.

“No one that I know of has any disagreement with the statement that texting is 20 times more dangerous than keeping your eyes on the roadway driving,” said Fisher in the Post article.

In fact, Distractology 101 has been so successful that, responding to the mounting issue of distracted driving and the high demand from local schools, the Arbella Insurance Foundation has recommitted to its Distractology tour for an additional five years. The program, one of the first in the country to address distracted driving with young, inexperienced drivers, relaunched in the spring of 2016 with updated training scenarios and an eye-catching new look. To date, more than 11,000 teenagers have completed the Distractology training.

Teens have the highest crash rate of any group in the United States. A 2015 study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that distraction was a factor in nearly six out of ten moderate-to-severe teen crashes. Adding to the urgency of this issue, auto fatality rates are the highest they have been in nearly a decade. Research from the National Safety Council found a 14 percent jump in auto-related deaths in the first six months of 2015, compared to the previous year.

According to Bloomberg News in a March 2016 article, the Distractology tour has visited more than 120 towns in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. More than 100 high schools have participated, and the program is already booked through the end of the year due to popularity. Ninety-six percent of students who participated in the program would recommend it to their friends, a strong indication of the impact Distractology is having on students.

“Motor vehicle crashes continue to be the leading cause of death among 16-19 year-olds in the United States, and their risk of being involved in a fatal crash is almost three times higher than drivers aged 20 and older,” Fisher told Bloomberg News. “We created a simulator that mimics real-life distracted driving and educates young drivers about the hazards of this dangerous behavior. By participating in the training, new drivers can be better equipped at anticipating hazards and abstaining from dangerous behavior.” (August 2016)